Why Your Portable Gas Can Is a Ticking Time Bomb

Many people use portable plastic gas cans to fill the gas tanks of their snowblowers, generators, and lawnmowers. Throughout the past 15 years, however, there have been approximately 12 deaths and over a thousand injuries from explosions occurring in these same gas cans. The explosions are rare, but they are a real hazard to people who own them.

Nearly 20 million of these gas cans are sold each year and more than 100 million of them are currently being used throughout the U.S. While problems aren’t frequent, tests show that the gas vapor mixtures can explode inside the cans, causing tremendous damage and injury.

The condition is called a “flashback” explosion that occurs when a small amount of gas is left inside the container and gas vapor accumulates inside. If even a small amount of gas vapor escapes and is exposed to a source of ignition, such as a spark or flame, the container can then ignite and “flash back” inside the container. If it does spark, and the vapor inside the container is of a high enough concentration, the mixture will ignite and cause an explosion.

Wal-Mart is the leading seller of plastic gas cans and the company recently contributed $25 million to settle lawsuits from gas can explosions. The particular gas containers that caused the problems were made by Blitz USA, based in Miami, Oklahoma. Blitz has been forced out of business and the company is facing bankruptcy charges due to more than 80 lawsuits brought about by injuries from the gas cans.

There are many disagreements between attorneys and the manufacturers of the cans. Attorneys who represent clients who have been severely burned and disabled due to the explosions from gas cans claim that the gas cans are a hazard to anyone who uses them.

Manufacturers of the cans disagree, however, stating that the cans are safe and they carry warnings such as “vapors can explode” and “can be ignited by a flame source many feet away.” Scientific experts have experimented with a flame arrester, a piece of mesh that can prevent many of the gas can explosions from occurring. With the advent of these arresters, hopefully the exploding gas can problem will be a non-issue in the near future